The Trap Game that wasn’t. Or was it. Perhaps Vanderbilt is just plain better than anyone wishes to give them credit for. Were the Gators flat, or did Vanderbilt play over their heads? Going in everyone, their momma, cousins, and uncles had this pegged as the “classic trap game”. Watching and rewatching the game it sure had the feel of a trap game. The Gators looked flat, uninspired, predictable and allowed the Commodores to hang around til the end. Vanderbilt playing at home with much confidence and enthusiasm played toe to toe with the Gators all evening and had a chance late to pull the upset. While there were many reasons for the Gators less than stellar performance, realistically Vanderbilt is just a good solid team. Not Alabama good mind you, but good enough to beat you.
Jordan Rogers, a poor man’s version of his brother Aaron, played well getting knocked around all evening by the Gator defense but he continued to get up and complete passes downfield. He finished the evening 17-31 for 237 yards and a td pass. Jordan Matthews the Vanderbilt wide receiver was as good as advertised continually making plays against the talented Gator defensive backs finishing with 8 catches for 131 yards and a td. Zac Stacy the Vandy running back, while not flashy, was effective at times particularly in the second half. the Vanderbilt coaches called a great game continually keeping the Gators defense on their heels and out of synch and they definitely had their guys prepared and playing with confidence almost pulling out the upset. Defensively, they played with heart and emotion and had a great gameplan centered around stopping the Gators main threat Mike Gillislee.
So with the Gator defense giving up yardage, long drives, and 4th quarter points for the first time all season what was the difference in the game for the Gators? Two things: Jeff Driskel and “special” teams. In the haste to shut down Gilly, they lost containment on Jeff Driskel who burned them all evening on the zone read play running for 177 yards and 3 touchdowns setting a school single game record for rushing by a quarterback. On top of that the Commodore special teams play was utterly atrocious. Vanderbilt came out inspired on the opening drive of the second half where they drove down the field finally settling for a field goal try which was blocked by the Gators Earl Okine and recovered by corner back Loucheiz Purifoy. On the subsequent Gator drive Vanderbilt held them to a seeming three and out regaining momentum after the blocked kick. However, on fourth down the Gators faked the punt with Trey Burton receiving the snap and tossing to Solomon Patton on the jet sweep where he rumbled 54 yards to the three yard line which led to a Gator td. Later in the second half after Vanderbilt scored to again get within seven, Andre Debose returned the kickoff 60 yards to set up a field goal and make it a two score game once again. Special teams were indeed special for the Gators, not so much for Vanderbilt.
So why did this game feel like a gut punch to Gator fans all night? Injuries to key starters, dropped passes, conservative play-calling particularly in the redzone, and probably a little let down after last week’s big game. As anyone who has ever played the game will attest it’s hard to get up every week. Three starting offensive lineman missed some or all of the game as did starting defensive end Dominique Easley. Freshman receiver Latroy Pittman went down during the game while Quinton Dunbar didn’t start and didn’t play much due to an unexplained disciplinary issue. Certainly that was disruptive to continuity and execution. Dropped passes are drive killers particularly on 3rd down and the Gators had several on the night. They not only shut down the offense but they kept the defense on the field. For whatever reason, perhaps due to injuries, the coaches got extremely conservative in the red zone settling for field goals allowing Vanderbilt to hang around longer than fans were comfortable with.
Overall, however, the Gators hung in there in the face of adversity, never got down on themselves or each other and pulled out a great SEC road victory keeping the dream of an SEC East championship alive and kicking. It wasn’t pretty, none have been this year, but they did what they came to do and that’s win the game. Many of the players that missed the game this week are expected back for the big game in the Swamp against Carolina.